Thursday, 21 June 2012

For Ron, Danny Dyer's twin.

I got the call up in 2005
between jobs, between worlds, between wars
neither dead nor living
I’d been a mechanic for the RAF twice
which made me a reservist
which made it time to start giving.

not wanting to live all that badly, true
yet not wanting to die on another’s terms
not for the whims of a medieval monarch
or the corporations
I chose gin
Caribbean rum
the crack house
thought I’d mull it over.

coming round, noticing that the month had changed
the season too, those leaves now orange and earthbound
then plodding the hill to mother’s like a prodigal foetus;
have you noticed there’s always a hill?
and that it only ever faces the same way?
but finding only boards
on the windows and doors
I left.

on the way to the curfew I was grabbed by my kin
screaming she’s gone now you fucker, where the shit have you been?
we went inside, had a drink or four
he told me about the bathroom
the blood on the floor
the note on the door
“I can’t live in a world without my son”
our Stevie, adopted
which only left one.

I’d missed the cremation, inherited two large
walked down side of the M23
found a barge
at Southampton
that was joining a ship at Plymouth sound
which was bound
for Rio
they needed muscle
I was on
I was in.

I worked 72 hours straight, then couldn’t sleep
at all.
only just out of Europe
into the deep
briny blue.
finding the hold
in an insomniac, overcaffeinated haze
and finding these animals there
or so it seemed
for they dressed in skins
their only interest being
a recycled square of tin foil
like the hope of all times.

and the next thing I knew:
that beach that went on forever, the sky so blue
and sleeping there, shivering
and still quivering
four days later
in the bus station
waiting to go
to Pedra do Bau

off the bus three days, I met Ron
he found me in my room
asked me if I had ever know true peace.
I was nonplussed
he was an absolute deadringer for Danny Dyer, you see
yet his accent
was full on RP
he told about living in the moment
told me about being fishers of men
I was hungry

he showed me a neat trick I’d learnt in boot camp, but forgot:
that simply by sitting there on the spot
for 20 minutes or more
you could end the war
in your head
forget yourself
then he said:
“our whole family comes from this”
then he gave me a kiss
told me, “pass it on son”

for six months, six weeks and six days
we carried on in this vein
negotiating pain
and disease
with ease

there were almost 144 disciples now
Ron seemed like he was expecting something
to come to pass
by the light of the moon
on the mountain top
as we cracked open our third bottle of scotch
he slurred
every third
and told me of the mass suicide
we’d all be embarking on
in three days
at 19:21
the year of his grandfather’s birth
in Mile End
(he had lapsed into cockney by then)
he sang ‘boiled beef and carrots’
‘roll out the barrel’
‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’
and I sensed trouble

I waited for him to
pass out
pulled a blanket over him
considered closing his account
but no
I thought what must be must be
slid down the scree
threw some crackers and Tartex
into my pack
and like that
I was gone.

Really quite perfect for a farewell soiree.

One afternoon we all marched across Regents Circus to a wine bar between two amusement arcades. I had never seen the inside of a wine bar before but there we were, and just for today I could hold court in a comfortable bodega corner in a meaningless English small town, bullshitting away to my heart’s content and outlining these fantasies as reality, not thinking for a minute that anyone could possibly disbelieve my sincerity or my capabilities just so long as I kept on talking. A wine bar, it turned out, was really quite perfect for a farewell soiree. The booze was flowing freely, and when I looked at my watch I saw that it was almost a quarter to five. I made to stand up but my legs were not in agreement with my brain and after three attempts to lever myself upright I took a break from my exertions.

I couldn’t stand up straight but I could feel my bowels beginning to move around themselves like a nest of vipers. I attempted to use my elbows to force myself into a standing position. I was almost halfway there when I heard a guttural wail coming up at me from beneath the floorboards, and as I looked around I noticed that all of the eyes of the amateur imbibers were on me and me only. Why were they all staring at me? I began to open my mouth to set them straight, but when I started to do so I immediately noticed that my mouth was already hanging open and leaking drool, and that I was crying profusely. Instinctively, I flung my left arm around Penfold’s shoulders and leant into him. I managed to croak into his ear, “the bogs, the bogs”. He seemed to understand what I was getting at because he was kicking some recently vacated bar stools aside, whilst Tracey dragged a fashionable coffee table from our path, and then we were halfway across the bar floor and toward the stairs that led to the chromium plated lavatories below us. By the time that we got there I had acquired Ian Leighton on my other side, muttering words of comfort along the lines of “Tedski man, don’t panic, don’t panic, code red is over Tedski, we’ve got ya, we’ve gotcha man”. I remember treading air above the stairs themselves just before a greeny-orange mist descended, and then all of the darkness was with me. Somebody must have put something in my drink.

When I came to everything was still spinning slightly and I was on my side, foetal position engaged, on the floor of one of the restroom cubicles: I was half in and half out of it, so to speak, and Lynne was leaning over me. My combat trousers were around my ankles, my pants had disappeared and she was mopping at my rectum with a wad of soggy paper, cradling my forehead in her bosom. As she ran her fingers through my greasy hair I noticed that she wasn’t wearing a bra. She sniffed, cleared her throat, and tossed the slimy wad of used bogroll into the pan. Plop! Then she leaned across me to flush the toilet and gather another handful of paper, which she immediately dipped into the bog and began wiping around my anus afresh. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this, but it’s a really loving thing to do. I felt like a cross between a patient on a cancer ward and a newborn baby, totally helpless, but completely held and cared for, and it wasn’t something that I had ever felt before. She sniffed again and I managed to open my eyes enough to notice that she had been crying. My eyes stung and my throat was dry and sore, and the space behind my forehead was banging. I tried to say something but I found that I couldn’t, and Lynne immediately put her finger to her lips to quiet me up, and then she began to whisper something instead.

“Don’t say anything, Ted” she told me. “Just lie there, please, just try to just be for a moment. I’m so glad that you’re back, I had this idea that you were gone forever. You were ranting and raving and threatening, you were marching up and down, kicking in the doors and shouting, banging your head against the walls, and I thought that the manager was going to come down with his heavies and throw us all out properly. Then you just sort of collapsed. It took me ages to get your trousers cleaned up. I managed to kind of towel-dry them with lots of loo roll. Your pants were finished though, they had to go.” She made a hand gesture that must have been the international sign language for somebody pulling a toilet flush, whilst pinching her nose shut with her other hand and smiling. I liked that.

Again I tried to speak but my lips felt cracked, as though I had been walking through the desert for a week. Lynne put her finger to her lips again and went on.

“It was like an incident of demonic possession. One moment you were raving, really spewing bile and poison and speaking in tongues, and your eyes were completely blank and rolling back up into your head like one of those stupid toy dolls.” I didn’t know what she was talking about now but I let her go on, because I knew that she would make sense again eventually; because she always did, I thought to myself in my new dreamy hyper-reality. Everything was extremely calm and quiet in there and even my headache was beginning to fade.

“Do you think that you could manage to stand?” she asked as I zoned back into the moment. The walls breathed in and out for a second and I shook my head rapidly from side to side. My brain rattled about in its pod, clackety-clack, and then I was OK. “Well, I can try” I told her. I rolled slowly over onto my ass and hunched myself forward, reached for my breeks, slid their dampness up over my knees. My stomach cramped slightly and it made a little noise and Lynne caught my eye, smiled, beautifully concerned, and then it was gone and I was up on my heels and fastening the buttons. As she edged out of the cubicle I grabbed a hold of her hand and I squeezed it and she squeezed back. Then we made our way through the dull metal and porcelain of the empty space of the washroom, back toward the staircase.

When we got to the top of the stairs and into the bar there was sound again and then a sudden hush, like in that film about the werewolf, and the bar manager came out from behind his bar and he folded his arms and he stared at us. I looked past him and at the staff, three of them standing close to the till in their uniform turquoise polo shirts like slightly out of condition personal trainers from a downmarket gym, and they were frozen in the moment, two of them clutching a handful of change, and it was pretty clear that it was time for us to leave. Then he said into the silence, “just get out, all of you, and never come back here. You’re disgusting, you’re animals and you’re all barred!” I actually physically flinched at that. He was obviously playing to the galley, and speaking in a mockney accent that was before its time, although cardboard cockneys were ten a penny in Swindon all the time that I lived there. But that was Swindon in a nutshell. A small place where mediocrities could act out their impotent power fantasies, a cattle market town for hill-dwelling smock-wearing pig fuckers. I took a step toward him but Lynne gave my chest a gentle shove and I realised that I was done. Done for the night, and done with this whole damned place.

I slept better that night than I had for quite a while; partly it was the early night, and the cool air on the short walk home, but mostly it was the pure loving kindness that Lynne had shown me in that deserted subterranean bathroom – a pub toilet – while she cleaned me up and whispered soothing things into my sleeping ears and didn’t care what would happen had somebody walked in on us. When I woke the sun was streaming into the room around the tattered edges of the dirty pink blanket draped across the window, and it was 8:15 and a beautiful day. I didn’t feel sick and I didn’t have to go to work either. I crawled from under the sticky sheets and I made my way down the stairs through the languid flies for the instant coffee.